Over the past week, the last of our eligible Long-Term Care (LTC) residents received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The current shortage required a delay in the rollout to LTC staff, essential caregivers, frontline medical practitioners, and our most vulnerable groups, until more supplies are received from the Federal Government later this month. Pfizer is in the midst of its Belgium plant-retooling project that will significantly increase production over the year, but unfortunately, will cut Canadian shipments by 80 percent during February. The federal minister in charge of procurement continues to be confident the expected four million doses will be distributed to Canadians by the end of March. As vaccine stock increases, vaccination will expand to more population groups, under the direction of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU).
Meanwhile, the number of active cases for Cornwall, Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry and Akwesasne continues to decline this week, reaching 240 by Wednesday. I want to thank everyone for this impressive reduction over the past month, which has been achieved through your collective efforts of following Ontario’s stay at home order and best practices to limit the spread. The provincial medical expert panel is expected to relax some of the current restrictions next week. Locally, we must remain cautious as our hospitals continue to operate at capacity by staying at home as much as possible, physically distancing, and wearing a mask.
This progress allowed us to welcome back our local students to in-class learning this past week. During the fall session, the $1.3 billion of additional education funding helped achieve a 99.66 percent, non-infectious success rate. We know that cold winter weather and the new, more infectious variants will make the upcoming weeks more challenging. Our government increased education spending to $1.6 billion to address these concerns, with an additional $381 million for the Safe Return to Class Fund. Local school boards will receive $45,466,424 to enhance ventilation, boost online learning, improve mental health outcomes, and hire more staff. Getting students back to in-person learning is a priority and highly encouraged by childcare experts. School boards have told us that they cannot find qualified teachers to reduce class sizes, despite our agreement earlier this year with teachers’ unions to allow the temporary hiring of retired teachers. This past week, we announced a deal with the College of Teachers to allow second-year education students to be hired, if no other qualified resources are available.
As we continue our efforts to counter the pandemic’s effects, the government has addressed new homeowners’ ongoing concerns. A new Home Construction Regulatory Authority (HCRA) will now be responsible for licensing new home builders and vendors, ensuring they provide regulatory compliance and warranty information, and implement a complaints process to oversee their conduct. The home construction industry is a significant employer in Ontario, and confidence in their final product is critical in their continued success.
Media articles still indicate a lack of awareness of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to cover the cost of 10 paid sick days through this pandemic. Ontario and all the other provinces joined the Federal government to offer this $1.1 billion program. Minister McNaughton has met with his federal counterpart to request them to raise awareness, simplify the application, and speed up payment. We are encouraging people who are not covered through their workplace to access these funds when experiencing symptoms of this virus.
Each year, we hold pre-budget sessions to gather local input from businesses, municipalities, and the general public. Next Wednesday morning, February 10, we have scheduled a virtual session for the general public. If you are interested, please register with my executive assistant by emailing her at Marilyn.email@example.com by Monday, February 8. Please include your contact information and presentation topic. Once you are registered, you will receive a calendar Zoom meeting invitation.
As always, remember to stay home, stay safe and save lives. Your health and that of your loved ones may depend on it.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry